The defeat, undoubtedly the worst of coach Ron Rivera’s career in Washington, was bad enough to raise the question of whether any mid-season change was imminent – not necessarily to salvage a season that continues to slip away, but to confirm the sell-out. a crowd of fans who expected something more.
Months after a wave of hope washed over the Commanders following the sale of the franchise to a group led by Josh Harris, the team currently sits in 12th place in the NFC with minimal chances of making the playoffs.
“This is definitely the worst moment,” Rivera said.
And Washington had no one to blame but himself.
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The Commanders turned the ball over to the Giants six times, after three interceptions by quarterback Sam Howell and fumbles by wide receiver Byron Pringle and quarterback Chris Rodriguez Jr. by Logan Thomas. Meanwhile, the defense acted like a sieve. A week after he allowed 11 explosive plays (defined as runs of a length or more and a pass of at least 16 yards) to the Seattle Seahawks, he gave up nine such plays to the Giants.
In the first quarter, running back Saquon Barkley easily scored a 24-yard touchdown pass with running back Jamin Davis staying in coverage. Barkley also threw for 36 yards in the third quarter on three missed receptions, had a five-yard catch in the fourth quarter and capped his night with a 31-yard run that set up a Giants field goal.
Wide receiver Darius Slayton, whose 24-yard catch in the first quarter set up Barkley’s first touchdown, also caught a 40-yard pass in the second quarter with no defender in sight thanks to terrible coverage by the Commanders’ secondary. Daniel Bellinger received a similar gift when he found himself wide open for a 26-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Shortly thereafter, DeVito connected with Barkley for his second touchdown of the day.
“It seemed like their main plan was to play a human [coverage] and then let their D-line do what they need to do,” Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins said of the leaders. “They had some success with sacks and stuff like that, but it’s not easy to play the entire game in the NFL and we have players that can make plays. We started doing it and I didn’t really notice the counter. They stuck to their plan.”
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Hodgins explained that New York’s counter-attack relied on a lot of quick plays to get the ball out of DeVito’s hands and change Washington’s defensive advantage.
“Their reaction is just a little bit slower, so we have a real advantage earlier on routes and in plays because their bodies need more time to react to everything they see,” Hodgins added. “…They play mostly with a human hand, so for us we do a lot of netting, trying to pick some picks and get their defenders to pick themselves over our receivers. They were kind of struggling with the nets… and we… started calling them out even more.”
The big-play trend continued in New York until the bitter end. With 16 seconds left, Isaiah Simmons returned an interception 54 yards for the decisive score.
If the damage had been limited to explosive plays, perhaps Washington could have found a way to overcome them. But Commanders fight in a different way.
Howell, whose development in his first season as a full-time starter was encouraging, was sacked four times and had three interceptions. The first interception was a slight takedown of Dyami Brown. The second was a deep shot into double cover. Simmons’ third touchdown was a fumbled sack attempt.
“[I] I felt the pocket closing in on me, so I just tried to kick the ball out of bounds, but it didn’t go far enough,” he said of the pass intercepted by Simmons.
Asked if he thought the game was a regression for Howell, Rivera said it was a “step forward” and added: “He’s learning; he grows. He made a few mistakes, but he persevered, fought and gave us a chance to win the match.
Three fumbles, two of which resulted in touchdowns for New York, didn’t help.
“There was just poor ball security on my end and the other players who gave the ball away,” Thomas said. “We just have to be better at it. It’s something we’ve preached. They did a good job of distributing the ball and getting it outside.
Howell gave fans a scare when he slowly got to his feet after a powerful seven-yard touchdown strike by Xavier McKinney late in the second quarter. Howell landed hard on his left side and lay on the ground waiting for coaches as many of his teammates ran to him. A fight broke out on the sideline, leading to the disqualification of Commanders winger Curtis Samuel and Giants defenseman Cor’Dale Flott.
Howell returned to the field after a quick assessment in the medical tent and assured after the game that he was “fine” and that the hit had no impact on his play for the remainder of the match. He finished 31 of 45 for 255 yards and one touchdown with a passer rating of 62.7. He also had three runs for 35 yards and a score.
“I think the most frustrating thing is that we have a really good football team,” Howell said. “We have huge potential in this locker room. The most disappointing thing is that we are not achieving the results we felt we could achieve.”
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For much of the past three years, Rivera has preached growth and consistency in an attempt to turn around a franchise in disarray. While he dealt with a number of off-the-field issues, many of which involved the team’s former owner, his on-field performance was similar to Sunday’s.
Commanders have consistently failed to produce good play in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams. They consistently struggled to get off to a fast start and consistently failed to correct a number of nagging mistakes, including big defensive plays and missed tackles that led to huge runs.
They also consistently lost to teams they should have easily beaten.
“That’s kind of the theme of the season – we’re going to play really well and then there’s going to be four- or five-minute breaks in the game that allow for big plays in the game,” said linebacker Jonathan Allen, who earned 1.5 sacks in the loss. “Until we get this sorted out, we will never be the defense we can be.”
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Rivera agreed, admitting that the lack of consistent play hindered the team’s overall development. When asked if he planned to make a change, Rivera said only that “there are things we need to look at” and that the team would “continue to discuss it and go from there.”
“No matter what my answer is, it will come out and people will say it’s an excuse,” he added. “So we will just take responsibility. We’ll show up tomorrow and get ready and get ready for the Dallas game because we have a very short week.